Sonya: When did you first realize that you wanted to become an attorney? What first drew you to a career as an attorney? What do you enjoy most about your career now?
Christine: In high school, I was interested in a medical career. I was from a rural area, so when I got to college, I found that I could not keep up with peers who had gone to urban high schools, and, while I loved biology, I did not love a number of the other prerequisite courses. I excelled in debate in high school, and thought that law would be a good fit for my strengths and interests. I should add that, at that time, I did not know any lawyers, and my only impression of what a lawyer did was based on TV.
I started my career as a litigator, but what I truly love is bringing deals together and working with business teams to launch new projects, mitigate risks or reach agreement with counterparties. I also enjoy being part of a business and being involved in conversations about strategy, growth and the future, which in the food ingredients industry means consumer trends and innovation.
Sonya: Have there been specific people (real or fictional) or pivotal situations/events that have inspired you, helped shape your career?
Christine: My mother was a pivotal influence. She left the U.S. Navy after getting married, and stayed at home to raise her children. When my parents divorced, she supported my sister and me by working nights in the local Post Office. The most important thing to her was our education. She saw that as the key to a future.
Another important mentor is my former manager, the prior General Counsel of Ingredion, Mary Ann Hynes, who not only helped me to become General Counsel, but has helped guide my career ever since in big and little ways. She is the one who encouraged me to get involved in professional and charitable organizations, and most importantly, to seek a true passion in life.
Sonya: Are there particular traits that you believe successful attorneys share? Traits that you believe you have yourself and which you look for in hiring outside and in-house counsel? How about common traits you’ve observed in other successful GCs?
Christine: It goes without saying that a good attorney is smart, a hard worker and detail oriented. A successful attorney is skilled in written and verbal communication, and knows how to analyze situations and mitigate risks for the benefit of his or her client. The best attorneys become the client’s partner, learning business inside and out, and are closely attuned with the client’s business and strategic needs. They learn to apply practical judgment, even to unusual situations. And from a career development perspective, they set high standards for themselves and others around them. One attorney whom I particularly admire sets proactive and specific development goals for herself each year, and is not afraid to openly articulate her career development needs. And some of the most successful GCs that I know have taken risks and stepped outside of their comfort zone in order to find the next challenge or follow their passion.
Sonya: What professional accomplishment are you most proud of? What would you like your legacy to be in your company/law department? In the legal profession?
Christine: Becoming GC of a public company is truly an amazing professional accomplishment, and something that I never would have expected when I started my career. I hope my legacy is seen in the growth of the company and of the people in the legal department, several of whom I hope to see around Chicago as GCs in their own right in the next several years. Within the legal profession, my legacy is not so much individual, but is shared with the other women who have successfully reached the GC role, through hard work, dedication and hopefully, other strong women who helped them when they needed it.
Sonya: Have you had mentors/sponsors? Have you acted as a mentor/sponsor to others? Is mentorship/sponsorship important? How? Why?
Christine: At each stage in my career, there have been important people from whom I have learned. Sometimes, it was just adopting an element of their style, or their mode of analysis. Sometimes, it was realizing what does not work for me, as I strive to convey an authentic self. As noted above, my most important mentor is my former manager, the prior General Counsel of Ingredion, Mary Ann Hynes, who believed in me and ultimately guided my career to help me become General Counsel, but has helped guide my career ever since in big and little ways. We have served together on charitable boards, and she is always willing to introduce me to people who can expand my network.
Sonya: Think about the legal profession over the course of the next 10 years. What do you see as the big changes that are coming which you believe will most significantly impact the profession and the role of the GC/in-house legal department?
Christine: Risk, and the pace of change, will continue to escalate. It is already hard to keep up with new laws and regulations, and all of us are pushed to do more with less. In some ways, the globalization of our world, and the need to move ever faster in business, will increase risk. AI is worth watching, as are alternative methods for provision of legal services, such as virtual lawyers who can partner closely with a client, learning the client’s particular style of legal work. The scope of the attorney/client privilege, and eDiscovery as the world moves to electronic communication forums similar to Instagram or Twitter, will be worth watching in the next decade. More personal issues such as flex time, remote work, and work/life integration will continue to need attention, as will the need to develop workplace programs that maintain wellness, promote overall satisfaction and engagement, and prevent burnout.
Sonya: Describe a significant challenge you have faced in your life or career. How did you overcome it? What did you learn from it?
Christine: I have been through many challenges both good and bad – working my way through college; starting my career alone in a new city; serving as caregiver for loved ones, and saying goodbye when they passed; the end of my marriage; and raising my daughter. What I have learned, and am trying to continue to learn, is that there is always a next step and that frequently, when a decision is the right one, it will be obvious in how I feel after having made it.
Sonya: What does Diversity & Inclusion mean to you? How important is D&I to you personally? As a GC? To your company/legal department? What advice do you have for GCs and others seeking to make a positive impact on the progress of D&I in their organizations and in the legal profession?
Christine: I have always felt that the best way to support D&I is to have open and honest communications about D&I issues, and to listen to diverse colleagues when they speak about what is important to them. Having said that, I have become increasingly aware that D&I training, particularly training in unconscious bias, is critical to set a clear playing field for communications and prevent misunderstandings. I also personally view D&I very broadly, as does Ingredion. It is not just about EEO classifications, but is about the entirety of who a person is. My goal has always been to create a place where we can support one another in good and bad times, and where everyone has space to both live their life and to succeed at work.
Sonya: If you were not General Counsel of your company (or of any company or even a lawyer at all), what career do you think you would most like to pursue?
Christine: My grandmother was a teacher, and that is a career that has always inspired me. I would also love to build a career in the not-for-profit world, where you (hopefully) wake up every day feeling like you are making a difference. Of course, having lived in Colorado, part of me would be just as happy as a forest ranger or naturalist.
Sonya: Knowing what you know now about being a lawyer and a GC, if you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be? At what point in your past would you give yourself that advice?
Christine: At almost any point in my legal career – slow down, take your time. You do not have to move so fast.
Sonya: Tell me something fun about yourself. A personal skill or hobby that, while not directly related to your day job, you feel makes you more well-rounded, helps you be better at your day job and/or helps relax and focus you to do your job as a GC better.
Christine: I am, at heart, a Colorado girl. Much of my charitable work centers around the natural world. I love being outdoors and try to get in a twenty to thirty minute walk each day. And, silly as this sounds, I am an avid Pokémon Go player, which gives me the opportunity to interact with a wide range of people, young and old, whom I might never otherwise have met.
Sonya: Hashtag/Brand yourself in 5 words or fewer (For example, mine is #SelfiesWithSonya )
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Sonya Olds Som is a Partner in Major, Lindsey & Africa's Chicago/Midwest office and is primarily responsible for strategizing and leading networking, business development and marketing initiatives for our In-House Practice Group team throughout the Midwest. Sonya focuses on sourcing in-house counsel search opportunities for attorneys at all levels – from junior counsel to general counsel -- in corporate legal departments in a wide range of industries by developing and maintaining relationships with general counsel, human resource leaders and other C-Suite executives. Sonya also provides career advice to attorneys and is a recognized Thought Leader regarding diversity in the legal profession nationwide.